To bridge that gap and give themselves a chance to compete in this game, the Badgers need to click on all cylinders, especially in one specific aspect.
Let’s break down this week’s matchup to watch against Ohio State.
Ohio State WRs vs Wisconsin DBs
It’s evident that Ohio State has a talented receiver core, led by projected first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but not limited to Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Jayden Ballard, and Julian Fleming.
A similarity between all five players? Each receiver stands at least 6’1 tall, with Harrison Jr. standing at a whopping 6’4.
On the other hand, Wisconsin doesn’t have a single cornerback who stands over 6’0 tall, which has hurt them over the top against inferior opponents such as Illinois State.
With C.J. Stroud at the helm for the Badgers and a number of high-achieving receivers, the Badgers’ defensive back room faces a tough challenge to contain explosive plays and limit scoring opportunities, even with their highly-ranked defensive metrics.
Earlier this week, head coach Paul Chryst acknowledged the matchup between his defensive backs and the talented receiver core that Ohio State possesses, urging the importance of winning those 1-on-1 battles and making plays on the ball.
“There’s going to be a lot of 1-on-1 battles [defensively] and can you win those 1-on-1s? I think that’s what it comes down to,” Chryst said. “Any quarterback that has time and is comfortable, the world’s a little bit easier for them. All 11 guys got to do their part and, in those moments, someone’s gotta win the matchup.”
Not only does this matchup involve the players, but also the mind of defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who will be tasked with the tough decision to play primarily zone coverage to limit explosive plays, but be exposed to short and intermediate games that could lose the game pace for Wisconsin.
Or, Leonhard could choose to play 1-on-1 man-press coverage, trusting his undersized defensive backs to hold their ground against tough opposing matchups, while placing faith in the defensive line to create pressure on the quarterback.
Regardless, the number of factors that range into this matchup makes it the most important one of the week, and one that likely decides the outcome of the game.